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Last Updated: Saturday, 3 May, 2003, 05:16 GMT 06:16 UK
Ebola may help cure cystic fibrosis
One form of the Ebola virus
The scientists used a harmless part of the Ebola virus

The deadly Ebola virus could one day be used to help cure patients with cystic fibrosis.

Scientists in the US believe they can use the virus to deliver DNA into the body to correct the damaged genes that cause the lung disease.

This procedure, known as gene therapy, is seen as a potentially life-saving treatment for patients.

However, trials have so far had only limited success because of problems delivering the healthy genes into airway cells in the lungs where they are needed.

Targeting cells

In most cases, the lungs' natural defences stop the viruses which carry the healthy genes from attaching themselves to the top surface of these cells.

Instead viruses attach themselves to the bottom surface from where it is almost impossible for the healthy genes to enter.

We now have a new tool that allows us to get the virus into the cells
Professor Paul McCray

However, Professor Paul McCray and colleagues at the University of Iowa believe the Ebola virus could provide a solution to this problem.

This is because Ebola is much more infectious than many other viruses and is more able to get deep inside the lungs.

The researchers used Ebola to create a new virus which can attach itself to the right side of the airway cell.

This new virus uses the "protein coat" of the Ebola virus. This outer layer is a much safer version and cannot cause infection. The virus was tested on airway cells in a laboratory.

The scientists have yet to prove the crucial next step, however, namely that the healthy genes can then leave the virus and enter the cells.

But Professor McCray said: "We now have a new tool that allows us to get the virus into the cells."

He added: "Using the Ebola virus protein allows us to redirect the delivery virus to the top surface of the cell."

The discovery could help scientists in their attempts to develop a more effective gene therapy procedure for patients with cystic fibrosis.

Cystic Fibrosis affects over 7,500 people living in the UK. Average life expectancy for those with the disease is just 31.

The study is published in the Journal of Virology.

Ebola and other tropical viruses
08 Feb 03  |  Medical notes

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